The Stray Birds, an Americana trio from Lancaster County, Pa., combine old-time and folk styles in their eponymous debut album. Noteworthy is the album’s recent recognition on NPR’s “Top 10 Folk & Americana Bands of the Year,” a list that includes renowned folk artists like The Lumineers and The Carolina Chocolate Drops.Also notable is the momentum the trio has gathered in only the last two years. Since the release of their EP, “Birds of the Borderland,” in 2010 and the release of “The Stray Birds” in 2012, the Stray Birds have played for venues ranging from concert halls in Chicago to outdoor stages in West Virginia.
But what sets the trio apart from other emerging folk bands is their organic approach to sound and craft. During live performances, they press together to share one microphone. They play non-amplified and non-percussive, filling the stage with wooden instruments instead. Yet the 11 tracks of “The Stray Birds” leave a listener with the same fullness and intimacy of a live show.
Oliver Craven guides the trio in guitar, fiddle, mandolin and vocals. In “25 to Life,” Craven sings about the regrets of a criminal facing life in jail. In “Just Sayin’,” he belts a playful dance request to a woman. Craven’s raspy twang gives the trio roots, yet also leads it into upbeat, raucous numbers.
If Craven is the grounded voice of the band, then Charlie Muench is the trusty metronome, picking steady, heart-thumping rhythms on the upright bass. Though almost all songs are layered with Muench’s groovy beats, “Dream in Blue” and “Just Sayin’” in particular showcase his fast fingers and steadfast timing.
But Craven and Muench’s music would be lifeless without the lyrics that Maya de Vitry breathes into them. De Vitry writes a majority of the songs while also navigating guitar, fiddle, banjo and vocals. Her lyrics, like poetry, fall with rhythm and inspiring articulation. In “Dream in Blue,” the opening song that has received the most rotation on public radio, de Vitry sings, “I dream in blue/I drown in blue/I left home on account of you/always loving someone new.”
De Vitry fills her lyrics with stories of the tragedy and triumph of American life. In “Railroad Man,” she sings of a woman’s longing for a lover in the railroad business. In “Harlem,” she writes a soft lullaby to New York, singing “I love my city/my sleepless city/cause she can do my crying for me.”
The Stray Birds are as young as they are inspired—de Vitry is 23, Muench 25, Craven 27. But, as their name suggests, they are free in spirit. Though their voices and acoustic instruments blend in an impeccable fit, they are also talented as individuals and soloists. It’s reasonable to wonder, then, if their breakthrough album will launch the band, or just the band members. Will early fame propel or separate them? How much should one get attached to the Birds as a trio?
But for those who have been waiting for a graceful union of storytelling, harmony and folk, this flight is worth the risk.
Hear The Stray Birds perform on Thursday, April 11, at 8:15 p.m. in downtown Goshen’s Ignition Garage. Tickets are $15 through Ignition and $3 through CAC. Order at www.ignitionmusic.net/InStore. For more information on the band, visit thestraybirds.com.